Palazzo Vecchio is the town hall of Florence, Italy. This massive, Romanesque, crenellated fortress-palace is among the most impressive town halls of Tuscany. Overlooking the Piazza della Signoria with its copy of Michelangelo’s David statue as well as the gallery of statues in the adjacent Loggia dei Lanzi, it is one of the most significant public places in Italy.
Originally called the Palazzo della Signoria, after the Signoria of Florence, the ruling body of the Republic of Florence, it was also given several other names: Palazzo del Popolo, Palazzo dei Priori, and Palazzo Ducale, in accordance with the varying use of the palace during its long history. The building acquired its current name when the Medici duke’s residence was moved across the Arno to the Palazzo Pitti.
In 1299, the commune and people of Florence decided to build a palace, worthy of the city’s importance and giving greater security, in times of turbulence, to the magistrates. Arnolfo di Cambio, the architect of the Duomo and the Santa Croce church, began constructing it upon the ruins of Palazzo dei Fanti and Palazzo dell’Esecutore di Giustizia, once owned by the Uberti family. Giovanni Villani (1276–1348) wrote in his Nuova Cronica that the Uberti were “rebels of Florence and Ghibellines”, stating that the plaza was built so that the Uberti family homes would never be rebuilt on the same location. Giovanni Villani wrote that Arnolfo di Cambio incorporated the ancient tower of the Foraboschi family (the tower then known as “La Vacca” or “The Cow”) as the substructure of the tower into its facade; this is why the rectangular tower (height 94 m) is not directly centered in the building. This tower contains two small cells, that, at different times, imprisoned Cosimo de’ Medici (the Elder) (1435) and Girolamo Savonarola (1498). The tower is named after its designer Torre d’Arnolfo. The solid cubicle shaped building is enhanced by the simple tower with its clock. The large, one-handed clock was originally constructed in 1353 by the Florentine Nicolò Bernardo, but was replaced in 1667 by a replica made by Georg Lederle from the German town of Augsburg (Italians call him Giorgio Lederle of Augusta) and installed by Vincenzo Viviani.
The cubical building is built in solid rusticated stonework, with two rows of two-lighted Gothic windows, each with a trefoil arch. In the 15th century, Michelozzo Michelozzi added decorative bas-reliefs of the cross and the Florentine lily in the spandrels between the trefoils. The building is crowned with projecting crenellated battlement, supported by small arches and corbels. Under the arches are a repeated series of nine painted coats of arms of the Florentine republic. Some of these arches can be used as embrasures (spiombati) for dropping heated liquids or rocks on invaders.
Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici moved his official seat from the Medici palazzo in via Larga to the Palazzo della Signoria in May 1540, signalling the security of Medici power in Florence. The name was officially changed after Cosimo removed to Palazzo Pitti, renaming his former palace the Palazzo Vecchio, the “Old Palace”, although the adjacent town square, the Piazza della Signoria, still bears the old name. Cosimo commissioned Giorgio Vasari to build an above-ground walkway, the Vasari corridor, from the palace, through the Uffizi, over the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Pitti.
Cosimo I also moved the seat of government to the Uffizi. The palace gained new importance as the seat of United Italy’s provisional government from 1865–71, at a moment when Florence had become the temporary capital of the kingdom of Italy.
Although most of the Palazzo Vecchio is now a museum, it remains the symbol of local government: since 1872 it has housed the office of the mayor of Florence, and it is the seat of the City Council.
The Tower has three bells, the oldest one was cast in the 13th century.